On what still feels akin to a light winter’s afternoon in the national capital, Chris Patrick, senior vice president and general manager for the handset business at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., was also trying to play a fine balancing act with his attire. As he prepared to have a conversation with HT, if Patrick unwittingly betrayed any evidence of being exhausted, it wouldn’t at all be a surprise.

Qualcomm’s smartphone focus has been on overdrive these past few months, which among other things, also means the company is working with almost every smartphone maker ahead of the launches for 2023. Earlier today, Xiaomi announced the Xiaomi 13 smartphone series, running the company’s latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip. This is likely just the beginning. In particular for India, as a market that phone makers will make a beeline for.

India’s evolving digital push is unmissable, though partly pushed by the pandemic. “Everyone being so much more connected, relying on digital connections in a way that maybe we didn’t rely on it a few years ago,” noticed Patrick. “Digital payments and digital transformation within India have been a very rapid over the last three years,” he adds.

Qualcomm has development centres in Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad, which makes India the largest base outside San Diego for Qualcomm’s research and development. The company opened its first office in India in 1996 in New Delhi, and that has since been joined by Gurgaon, Noida and Mumbai as well.

Patrick says Qualcomm is excited about the 5G rollout in India, and that’s adds another layer to what he describes as a ‘fascinating market’ that continues to evolve. “India is a key part of our development machine,” he says.

It wasn’t the best start to the year for the company, having to deal with user complaints around the flagship Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip in flagship phones. These revolved around thermal inconsistencies, which impacted sustained performance, something we also noticed with phones including the OnePlus 10 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. Qualcomm was, praiseworthy as it turned out to be, quick with a two-pronged response. First was getting phone makers to roll out software updates to reconfigure the thermal management algorithms on these chips.

Also Read:Qualcomm new flagship chip gives us an early glimpse of 2023’s Android phones

In the meantime, the company quickly pushed a completely new chip, albeit with stiff reworking, out of the door for the next line of phones. Issues were corrected, something we experienced in phones such as the OnePlus 10T 5G. Were corrective measures ever a doubt? “There wasn’t much hesitation,” confirms Patrick.

We asked him about the difficulty in pushing the goalposts with this latest flagship smartphone chip, which builds on a strong foundation from the predecessor, the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1. “Going from the Gen 1 to Gen 1 is actually a Herculean effort,” he says, highlighting the human resource advantage that Qualcomm has harnessed.

One of those examples are the experts in artificial intelligence (AI), with the knowledge base as deep as from the last 30 years. “We really have an incredible team at Qualcomm, a global team that’s always working on these technologies. We always have this very deep pipeline. And then every year we’re ready to do the best in the industry across each of these different technology elements,” he adds.

In November when Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 flagship chip for smartphones, the company defined five key pillars, for the resulting experience – performance, image processing, connectivity, gaming, and security.

“One simple way to talk about our products is to think about benchmarks, and sometimes that’s a good shorthand. But in the end, really what matters is that people ultimately get a device using our products, and we want them to be delighted,” says Patrick.

But that is not all. Patrick insists that it’s more than just benchmarks and statistics. That is where the pillars come into relevance, which is increasing with every chip iteration. “We’ve reorganized how we think about things to be around these different experience pillars, each of which is capturing some aspects of people’s lives. If the benchmarks are good, and the scores are good along the way, that’s great. But the key thing is, is really the impact on people’s lives,” he says.

Yet, this is where emerges a complication – does one or a few of these pillars get priority over the others? “The quantum has always been global. And now our reach is further even than it’s ever been, says Patrick. Qualcomm relies heavily on the insights and knowledge that comes back from smartphone makers and their own Snapdragon Insiders Program.

“We feel that we can always get this insight into what people are interested in, what the technologies and experiences are in the future, and we always try to adapt and be ready for those new experiences,” he adds.

When we persisted a bit more about how Qualcomm balances the smartphone usage and even buying preferences that tend to differ globally, Patrick is quite forthright in saying there is no option but to “be the best that just about everything”. This is particularly true for the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, which will power the early 2023 line-up of Android flagship phones across the board, including from Samsung, OnePlus, Realme and Vivo.

“If you’re somebody that’s really using it almost as a productivity tool, we want to make sure that the AI underneath it is enhancing those experiences and have the best productivity solution,” he points to an example. Camera, gaming, and performance get similar priority.

Patrick says what we all have realised, just that some of us are less than willing to admit the dependence. The smartphone is a “device that’s fundamentally woven into your whole life”. Common wisdom always suggests that smartphone users in different parts of the world have different priorities. Patrick believes it is more of differing usage trends than differing demands. He points to the example of gaming – some parts of the world prefer PCs and consoles for gaming, while others rely on their phones.

“But in the end, I think there’s more commonality than differences. Just because, we’re also diverse, right?” he asks.

How far can AI push the envelope for evolving computing device experiences, is a question worth asking. The company has, in particular with its newer chips, has talked the influence and subsequent reliance on AI to optimize performance, experiences and functionality. “We can apply that to a whole host of different problems,” he points out.

There are examples of AI, silently at work, in our smartphones. Much beyond what we regularly interact with, such as camera image signal processing, voice assistants and contextual suggestions. Some important implementations include algorithms that combine the mobile network signal received by the multiple antennas in smartphones.

“AI can help us with things like audio processing, right how to better detect the difference between background noise that you don’t want to hear and your voice or the voice of the person you’re conversing with, like an extract telling the difference between these two and helping us separate it,” Patrick points out.

At the launch of the latest chip, Qualcomm didn’t hold back when they called it an “AI marvel”. Patrick insists, “that’s really what it is.”

There is the question we’ve all been asking for almost 24 months now, hoping for some positivity. Will the supply chain issues ease out in 2023? Patrick says the last couple of years have been fascinating, and he hasn’t seen anything like this in the 30 years he has been around in the tech industry. He believes that without doubt, things are normalizing.

“Supply and demand kind of any closer to normal. That’s not to say everything is issue free. There are definitely pockets of a challenge, but overall, we will definitely approach some kind of normality,” says Patrick, with a smile that has a definite hint of optimism.

Now that the flagship chip is leading the company’s product line into the next year, how important will the mid-tier chip line-up be for the more affordable Android smartphones? This ties in with a recent HP India research that indicates more gamers are now considering video games and the attached ecosystem as a viable career option.

“The mid-tier is, like someone described it as the belly of the market, which is that’s where a lot of the heft is. A lot of people have an appetite to really enjoy this technology. Yes, affordable gaming solutions are definitely a priority for us,” says Patrick. If the gaming experience is in place for mid-tier chips, the larger experience will be locked in too. That can only be very good news for the next line of mid-range Android phones.

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